Would you kiss a slug for $65,000?
Chelsea Toller would. And she'll even eat a cricket, too. (No word on whether she prefers them deep-fried or chocolate covered.)
Toller is the principal of Glenview Elementary School in Oakland, and she has promised her kids that if they raise $65,000 in pledges for the Glenview PTA during the annual Glenview Read-A-Thon, she'll kiss the slug and munch the cricket, and they can all watch and say, "Eeee-uwww!"
Sixty-five grand might seem like a daunting goal, but it's actually doable: The kids raised $62,000 last year. And every penny is desperately needed to fill the funding gaps created by the state's cuts in its contributions to local school districts.
Without that money, Glenview would have to get rid of its school librarian, instrumental music programs, anti-bullying programs and empowerment programs for girls.
For the next two weeks, the children will fan out through the neighborhood, knocking on doors and asking people to sponsor them in reading at least a half hour every night and carefully keeping logs of their progress.
Every effort is made to make it safe and pleasant for them. For example, they're only allowed to knock on the doors of people they know, and they must be accompanied by an adult they know personally.
And at the end of the two weeks they'll be rewarded with an all-day party called the Celebration of Literacy on February 28, which is the closest Friday to Dr. Seuss's birthday, March 2. (He would have been 110 this year.)
On that day, they'll be allowed to put away their schoolwork and do nothing but read for sheer pleasure. The littlest ones usually make "forts" in the middle of the classroom, crawl inside, and read, read, read to their hearts' content. It's beyond cute.
The students also invite outsiders to come in and read aloud to them, including local writers (like me), artists and politicians. But to tell the truth, the readers who impress them most are Oakland cops and firefighters and student athletes from Cal.
The Read-A-Thon has a dual purpose: to raise money and to teach the kids that reading is fun.
"As much as we need the money, what we really want is every kid reading," says Read-A-Thon co-chair Alicia von Kugelin.
Most of the teachers are offering incentives - not for collecting pledges, but for reading.
Third grade teacher John Miller has told his kids that If 100 percent of them log at least a half hour of reading every night, he'll let them to watch while he gets his head shaved. And every classroom that achieves its 100 percent reading goal will get a pizza party, courtesy of Red Boy Pizza.
If you'd like to support the Read-A-Thon, you can do it online by going to glenviewelementary.org and clicking on the "Donate Now" button, or by sending a check made out to "Glenview PTA" to Glenview Elementary School, 4215 La Cresta Ave., Oakland CA 94602.
In addition, ParkBurger on Park Boulevard will donate a portion of the day's proceeds on Feb. 18, and Ultimate Grounds will give a free cup of coffee on either Feb. 22 or 23 (the date is yet to be determined) to everyone who donates to the Read-A-Thon.
Read on, Macduff!